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“The task is simple.” The warden straightened his glasses. “I need you to help solve a problem at another quarry.”

*ding*

Trouble at the Embersplit Mine

The miners at the Embersplit mine have been having trouble meeting their monthly production quotas. Figure out what is causing them to fall behind and help them solve it. Successful completion of this quest will result in the termination of your sentence. Failure to complete this quest will result in serving the entirety of your sentence.


Title Removed: Criminal


“South of here, there is another Fire Iron ore mine that is having a bit of trouble. I’d like for you to head down there, and see what you can do to sort it out. Once you have finished, your criminal title will be removed.” Seeing Thorn’s furrowed brow, the warden smiled encouragingly at him. “Do you have any questions?”

“No, sir.” Thorn put his thoughts in order. “I am appreciative of this opportunity and will do my best to complete the quest.“

“Excellent, I am glad to hear that. Alright, you are free to go. Report to the administration station at the breakfast bell tomorrow.”

After leaving the warden’s office, Thorn paused a moment to stretch. Standing in-doors made him feel quite cramped. As he made his way back toward the bunk house where he slept with the other inmates, Thorn’s mind wandered back to the event that led him to prison.

***

Thorn had just arrived back at Berum. After blindly walking around the city for a while, he found himself at the temple, where he sat down for a moment of peace after the emotional turmoil of being betrayed by his friends. Yet his moment of peace was not to be. Just as he had settled into his breathing routine, he caught sight of a familiar figure coming up the steps of the temple. Looking over, eyes hardening, Thorn saw Jorge. At the same time, Jorge caught sight of Thorn’s large figure seated on the steps and stopped dead in his tracks, his eyes going wide.

“Hey, Thorn,” Jorge said, watching him carefully. “Looks like you made it back. Haha.”

Thorn had expected to be furious if he ever encountered Ouroboros, Mina, Velin, or Jorge, but surprisingly, all he felt was cold. Cold and unnaturally calm.

Seeing that the cold look in Thorn’s eyes had not receded, Jorge took a small step backwards, his hand resting on the pommel of his knife. “Thorn, I know what Ouroboros did wasn’t cool, but you have to understand there is much more at play here. You benefited by following us and paid the price for it. Don’t do something you’ll regret.”

Slowly, Thorn stood, towering over the dwarf, who put up his hands nervously. “Whoa there, big guy, let's be gentlemen about this. That business before was just business. Besides, if you draw a weapon, the guards will be all over you.”

Looking at the small figure in front of him, Thorn frowned, his brain working a hundred miles a minute. A glance showed a couple of guards looking over at them.

Jorge saw Thorn’s glance and laughed. “Let me give you some advice, kid: don’t even bother thinking about revenge. If you do, don’t blame me for putting you down again. Haha.” With another smirk, he turned to go, only to feel a brief sensation of motion before his screen turned black and he disconnected.

Stunned, he stood in the familiar white space, the words [You’ve Died] floating in front of him, accompanied by a timer, counting down.

[24:00:00]

[23:59:59]

[23:59:58]

[23:59:57]

Thorn had watched as Jorge turned away and, for the briefest of moments, all the cold rationality that enveloped him burned away under pure rage. With a big step forward, his hand shot out, and he grabbed the dwarf, his hand wrapping around Jorge’s shoulder. With a swing of his arm, he sent Jorge flying at a nearby wall, watching in satisfaction as the dwarf hit the wall with so much force that his armor deformed.

*ding*

You Broke the Law

You have attacked another player in town and have been seen by the guards. If you turn yourself, in you might be given a lighter sentence.


Would you like to turn yourself in?

[Yes]

[No]


Feeling quite a bit better, Thorn pressed [Yes]. Though it took awhile for the guards to find chains that fit him, Thorn stood calmly waiting to be taken away. Finally, chains were fitted around his wrists by two heavily perspiring guards. As his vision faded to black, the last thing Thorn saw was a notification.

Temporary Title Earned: Criminal

They say the only thing wrong with crime is getting caught. Well, in your case, it is most undoubtedly wrong. Sinner.


When Thorn awoke, he was in a prison cell, complete with graffiti and a sketchy bunkmate. Despite the fact that he had taken out his anger on Jorge, the flash of satisfaction that had come from their interaction had crumbled quickly, leaving Thorn upset. After a few days of incarceration, Thorn had volunteered for the quarry, where he had worked until now.

***

The morning sun rose hot and early, and the bright rays poked Thorn awake even before the morning breakfast bell rang. Most of the other inmates were sprawled on their hard beds, sleeping for everything they were worth. Countless days of back-breaking labor was a sure recipe for deep sleep, and it was with groans and grumbles that they dragged themselves up at the ringing of the bell.

As usual, Thorn was the first one out of bed. A hard day breaking stone and collecting Fire Iron ore hardly tired Thorn at all, so the seven hours of sleep he had gotten was more than enough. Gathering up his few belongings, Thorn made his way over to the administration post, gratefully accepting three loaves of bread and two sausages from one of the cook’s helpers on his way. While he could do without sleep, his gargantuan form needed food regularly.

“Hello, Thorn. Here to check out?”

“Yup. Warden said I’m getting out today.”

While the prison guard in charge of the checkout procedure stamped his papers, Thorn took the opportunity to look around once more. There was a little fondness in his heart for this place. Everything in the quarry was simple and clear cut. There was no confusion or indecision, and most of all, there were no messy relationships. “Well, maybe one,” Thorn thought to himself as he spotted Oberlin hurrying over.

The thin thief was panting by the time he got near the administration post. One of the guards gripped his spear tightly, dropping the point in Oberlin’s path. Stopping quickly, Oberlin’s hands went up, and he took a step backwards, eyeing the guard warily.

“Are you being discharged, Thorn?” A faint anxiousness could be heard in Oberlin’s tone.

“Yeah, good behavior.” Thorn smiled blandly.

“Well, congratulations.” Oberlin flashed a smile at the giant.

“Thanks. See you around.” Thorn picked up the paperwork the guard was holding out and collected the gear he had been wearing when he was arrested. With a wave, he walked through the quarry’s large gate.

*ding*

Title Advancement: Criminal (parole)

You have been let out on parole. The terms of your release are to complete the quest [Trouble at the Embersplit Mine]. Some of your disabled player features have been enabled.


Accompanying the title update was a storm of notifications as his messaging system was unlocked, practically burying Thorn in messages from his aunt. Grimacing, Thorn flicked through them quickly, before dashing off a message. His allotted solo play time wasn’t up, but he could not blame his aunt for worrying after not hearing from him for four weeks of in-game time.

After answering messages from Dovon, Jarvis, and Hamm, Thorn continued scrolling through the notifications as he walked. The quarry was a few miles from the nearest town, so Thorn headed that direction. Thankfully, his inventory had been unlocked, so he had plenty of food, as the bread and sausage he had eaten on the way out of the quarry did not cut it.

About to toss a pastry into his mouth, Thorn suddenly froze, his eyes locked on a blinking notification. He had not seen it in the initial flurry of messages, but there it was, blinking before his eyes. A message from Mina.

It took a full two minutes before he could react, and when he finally did, it was just to put away the pastry. Sitting down on the side of the road, Thorn stared at the blinking message, all sorts of feelings trampling across his heart. Hesitating for a moment, Thorn’s eyes hovered over the button to open the message, before he sighed and minimized it without opening it.

Lying back, he put his hands under his head and stared up at the cloudless sky, beginning to breathe as his master had taught him. Thorn had assumed that the fading of his negative feelings toward Mina and the others meant that he had gotten over their betrayal. His reaction when he saw the message from Mina indicated otherwise. The tumultuous emotions that rushed back were still quite strong, proving that time had only buried them. After a few moments of calm breathing, the pressure in his chest faded, and Thorn got back up to continue on his way. He would worry about the message from Mina later.

His distance-eating stride quickly carried him over the hills, and he soon saw the towers of a town peeking over the trees. The quarry he had served his time in was due west of Berum in a mountainous area. On his way there, the prison wagon that had carried him had stopped in the walled city that lay before him. Since his map had been disabled, he didn’t know what it was called. According to his re-enabled map, this was the bustling city of Narthil.

The gates of the city were patrolled by guards who looked at Thorn with distrust. Having played Nova Terra for a while, Thorn understood that they were reacting to his [Criminal] title, so he did not take it to heart. Rather than find an inn, Thorn restocked his supplies and looked for a map shop.

After his ignorance had brought him so much trouble, Thorn had taken full advantage of Oberlin’s experience and willingness to talk while they were together. While he could not claim to be an expert, he was certainly not a beginner anymore. One of the things Oberlin had mentioned in passing was that there were shops where maps could be purchased to make travel easier. As Nova Terra did not include any sort of fast travel system, knowing where you were going was essential, so many people sold maps of the places they had been.

Once he found the map store, Thorn purchased a general map of the area as well as a map of Narthil. Looking at it intently, he soon spotted what he was looking for, and a quick walk found him in front of a beaten up bar. While he was in jail, he had talked to Oberlin extensively about Nova Terra and had picked up numerous tidbits of information.

One piece of information that Thorn had found very interesting was that most people did not use map stores for unlocking new sections of their world map and, instead, tried to find pathfinders. A pathfinder was a Utility class that specialized in exploration and discovery. They could share their maps with other people, normally doing so for a price. Often found hanging around bars and other areas players gathered, pathfinders were the best way to get an accurate map.

A faded sign showing a jack of diamonds creaked gently as it hung from a post, one of the supporting chains hanging limp. Cracked and peeling paint suggested that the bar had once been red, but time and dirt made it hard to tell.

Pushing the door open, Thorn ducked inside. As he straightened to his full height in the bar area, silence spread out from him in a wave. Already an eye-catching figure, the dark armor granted by his ability [Avatar of the Wolf] added an air of danger to Thorn and combined with his [Criminal] title to create an imposing aura, causing those who filled the bar to look at him carefully. Used to such reactions, Thorn did not bother with them and instead walked to the bar. After eyeing the stools that stood in front of it, Thorn rejected the idea of sitting and placed a massive hand on the bar.

“Hello, what can I do for you?” The bartender wiped the bar in front of Thorn nervously.

“I’ll take a double pint of your special.”

“Sure, sure.”

Watching the bartender fetch a tall glass from under the counter and head toward the taps, Thorn took a look around the room. As one would expect from a bar in a run down part of town, the room was filled with a variety of dangerous looking characters. A thought flashed through his mind as he looked around, causing Thorn to smile. If he had walked in here a month ago, he probably would have been incredibly nervous.

But after his experiences in the quarry, Thorn had gained a matter-of-fact confidence that put him at ease. Thanking the bartender for the beer, Thorn took a sip and grimaced before putting it down carefully. Truly just as bad as Oberlin had mentioned.

“I’m looking for someone who can show me around.” Thorn spoke to the bartender quietly, causing the rag wiping the bar to pause slightly. Setting the rag down, the bartender placed his hands flat on the bar, his fingers spread for a moment, before picking the rag back up to resume his wiping. Thorn silently stacked up ten silver behind his tall glass.

“Third table along the wall.” Speaking just as quietly, the bartender did not look up as he smoothly grabbed the coins.

With a nod of thanks, Thorn turned around and took a step before stopping with a sigh, totally destroying the mysterious air that had just been built up. There was no way he would be able to squeeze through the tightly packed tables, let alone sit in one of the booths along the wall. Helpless, he could only turn around to ask the bartender for help.

Eventually, Thorn found himself in a small back room the bartender lent him, facing the robed and hooded figure who had been sitting at the table along the wall. Catching glimpses of leather armor beneath the robe when the figure entered the room, Thorn was pretty sure this was the person Oberlin had described.

“What do you want?” Despite the roughness of the question, the figure’s voice was pleasant to the ear and pitched higher than Thorn had been expecting.

“Are you a pathfinder? I need information.”

“Maps or log info? I don’t guide, and I won’t join your party. I only take gold as payment.”

“I’m looking for a map and as much information as you have regarding this region.”

“The whole region?” The pathfinder’s voice lightened, showing her surprise. “That’s expensive.”

“Yes. As much as you have.”

“Okay, no problem. Give me a second.” Pulling out a large, blank piece of smooth leather, the pathfinder held a slim hand against it for a moment. Slowly spreading from her hand, trails of ink curled across the surface of the leather, leaving detailed markings. The whole process took almost seven minutes, and when she was done, the pathfinder flipped the map over and began to scribe in tight script on the back.

“I’m combining all the log information with the map. That will allow you to highlight a place you have not visited and see the info you have received as a popup. Since you are a big customer, I am also adding a couple of rumors I’ve heard. They are probably nothing, but if you are bored, you can check them out.”

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A note from WildCard

If you've enjoyed what you read and are interested in reading more, please consider supporting me on Patreon where you can read Book #1 and Book #2 and advanced chapters from Book #3. Come explore the world of Nova Terra and help me determine where the story goes.

You can find out more about me at sethring.com


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About the author

WildCard

Bio: My name is Seth Ring and I am a writer. I create worlds and tell the stories of those who inhabit them. I love exploring these new worlds with other people. I post a chapter every Friday around 12 pm EST. To get advanced access to chapters you can support me on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/SethRing.

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